Signs and Symptoms

Depression affects millions of individuals throughout the US on a daily basis — oftentimes, creating a debilitating mental health state that interferes with business performance, family relationships and social interactions. Depressive disorders are becoming more common in today’s society, and according to statistics, the age of onset is earlier in life than it was 50 years ago. The median age used to be 29, and as of 2009, it was 14.5 years, therefore starting in adolescence as teenage depression. About 18.8 million American adults have a depressive disorder, which is about 9.5% of the population. Twelve percent of women and 6.6% of men will experience some form of depression during their lives.

depression symptomsThe Role of Depression in Alcohol and Drug Addiction

The field of addiction science has established a link between chemical addiction and depression — with alcohol addiction alone being the second most frequent mental health issue that coincides with addiction. When depression goes untreated, those suffering from depression often attempt to self-medicate using alcohol or drugs. While this may provide a temporary escape from negative feelings, untreated depression serves to further the cycle of chemical addiction, both through behavioral and chemical reinforcement. When depression and substance abuse coincide, an individual’s difficulty in recovery can be compounded. In such cases (known as “dual diagnosis”), concurrent treatment of depression and alcohol or drug addiction tend to lead to the highest recovery rates.


Many individuals with depression simply have accepted their persistently low moods and energy levels, without seeking treatment for the condition. While depression is considered the leading form of disability in the United States, it also is often one of the most treatable when assistance is sought. How do you know if you or someone you love is suffering from depression? While no sign or symptom can substitute for the diagnosis of a professional mental health clinician, spotting classic traits of depression can help those suffering from depression — and those who love them — identify the mental health condition for treatment.

  • Depressed Mood. Though it may seem to go without saying, one of the major hallmarks of depression is a depressed or irritable mood that persists throughout a given day — and occurs on most days. Being prone to tears, feelings of sadness or the experience of emotional numbness or “emptiness” can often indicate a depressive episode or condition.
  • Loss of Interest or Pleasure. Many depressed individuals find that they lose interest in activities, relationships or pursuits that used to interest them.
  • Weight Fluctuation. While it’s natural for weight to fluctuate a minor amount, depressed individuals often find their appetites and daily routines are affected by their emotional states. As a result, significant loss or gain of weight can indicate a depressed state — particularly when one is not dieting or making an attempt to adjust their weight. Weight fluctuation accounting for a change of five percent or more (in either direction) in a month is cause for concern. Of course, drastic weight loss can also indicate coexisting eating disorders, which may be triggered by or occur alongside depression.
  • Sleep Disturbances. Depression tends to interrupt natural sleep cycles, causing many depressed individuals to sleep significantly less (insomnia) or significantly more (hypersomnia) than they usually would.
  • Psychomotor Disturbances. Depressed individuals may develop faster or slower paces in their daily bodily movements, while walking, responding to others or simply accomplishing tasks. These conditions are known as psychomotor agitation or retardation — and those close to the depressed individual may take note of changes in physical response.
  • Exhaustion. One of the most common signs of depression is sheer exhaustion — especially when an individual has had adequate sleep and has not performed physically taxing activities.
  • Low Self Esteem. While most people have their moments of self-doubt or negative self-perception, depressed individuals tend to live within a mindset of worthlessness. If feelings of low self-esteem become overwhelming and persistent on most days, it may indicate a severe depression.
  • Disproportionate Guilt. When guilt reaches a constant and intense level — particularly a level which is not appropriate for the transgression at hand — it may indicate that depression is present.
  • Difficulty Concentrating. Depression can affect an individual’s ability to accomplish mental tasks, perform academically or on the job or simply think with clarity. Indecisiveness also tends to plague depressed individuals as they make attempts to accomplish cognitive work. When these struggles continue and persist on a daily basis, depression may be the reason.
  • Social Isolation. When depression hits, many affected individuals tend to isolate themselves from others. Sometimes, this isolation is fueled by lack of energy, while at other times low self-worth may prevent depressed individuals from engaging with others in social settings.
  • Alcohol and Drug Use. As described above, many depressed individuals make attempts to self-medicate through the use of alcohol or drugs. Sudden increases in alcohol consumption or episodes of drug experimentation or use can be signs that depression may be occurring.
  • Reckless Behavior. While the traditional view of depression is generally associated with malaise, sometimes the depressed individual’s reaction to depression takes on a different face. Risk-taking behaviors, such as promiscuity, reckless driving, “daredevil”-type stunts or illegal behaviors can also indicate depression lies below the surface.
  • Loss of Hope. Feelings that life’s challenges will never resolve tend to engulf the depressed individual. Depression often is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and the belief that one’s actions will be ultimately ineffectual.
  • Irritability and Anger. One adage in the field of depression is that sometimes anger is “depression turned inward.” Uncharacteristic displays of resentment, anger or irritability may indicate the exhaustion and sadness of depression is at work.
  • Unexplained Physical Symptoms. Sometimes, depression can be accompanied by unexplained aches, muscles pains, abdominal pains or other physical symptoms (such as headaches). While physical symptoms should be first taken to a physician, depression can sometimes cause psychosomatic reactions that can result in physical aches and pains until depression is resolved.
  • Inability to Control Negativity. While we all experience moments of pessimism, intrusive thoughts — those that we cannot seem to stop despite our best efforts — can indicate the presence of depression. Those who experience constant negative thinking — whether about their own self-worth, their circumstances or the world around them — may be experiencing a depressive episode or chronic depression.
  • Suicidal Ideation. Obsessive thoughts about death or frequent thoughts of suicide are serious signs of depression — and ones that should be treated immediately. Past suicide attempts, creation of a “suicide plan” or constant thoughts of death (beyond the fear of dying) are considered red flags for severe depression.

depression signsMedical Diagnosis

A doctor will try to more thoroughly diagnosis depression in an individual who suspects they’re experiencing the disorder. Diagnostic tests and assessments can allow them to determine which type of depression is being experienced, as well as identify factors that may contribute to it. For example, stress, support, physical/medical problems, medications and family history can all contribute to mental health problems. Typically, doctors will also ask if symptoms have persisted for more than 2 weeks, if rest and relaxation has helped symptoms, or if the condition has seriously impaired social or occupational functioning. If an individual is experiencing all of the above, then it’s likely that depression treatment is required.

Clinical depression is a mental health illness that involves more than just simple feelings of sadness, and it’s essential that treatment is available for these individuals. With approximately 2%-9% of those diagnosed with depression committing suicide, according to the Mayo Clinic, treatment can prolong the lifespan of an individual and improve their quality of life.


Those who get help with their depression will notice a substantial difference in their mental health. Only a small percentage of individuals receive the help that they need, but 80% of those who do will notice a very substantial difference in their lives. Depression treatment methods typically include the following:

  • Psychotherapy. An important part of depression treatment is counseling and cognitive therapy. Individuals can assess their emotional issues and work on improving them, while also developing new life goals.
  • Medication. Medication is often used for the treatment of depression and can make a big difference on the long-term outcome of depression.
  • Education. Family and friends are often educated about the illness to help ensure that they are informed enough to help.

The specific course of depression treatment will vary according to the individual and the results of their evaluation. But, these three essential components are part of any effective depression treatment plan.

If you would like assistance in getting the depression treatment you need, contact us today for more information.

Additional Resources